The Artificial Standard
Skeptics often approach a proposition with a screen through which they intend to sift any evidence: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This phrase was popularized by Carl Sagan, and is repeated by skeptics routinely, when encountering any hint that there might be a God. It sounds reasonable superficially, but it’s actually just a way of insulating oneself from rational propositions that rest on anything other than a dogmatic materialism. We might wonder whether those who proposed a round globe encountered this. It’s easy to imagine flat-earthers demanding “extraordinary evidence” that the earth was round.
This standard is also a way for skeptics to insulate themselves from having to evaluate the claims they make. This is often the default stance of atheists, for example, on the question of God’s existence. How could it escape the notice of someone who asserts such a standard, that he’s only throwing up an artificial barrier to evaluating evidence? A skeptic who makes this assertion — that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — is himself making a claim. Actually, he’s making at least two claims. Both are extraordinary, but neither is subjected to the skeptic’s own standard.
The first claim is that his own position of non-belief is neutral; that is, not a claim at all. In this way he avoids examining his own belief. Because he states his position in the negative, it doesn’t register as a claim, though obviously it is. If we’re talking about non-belief in God, then the skeptic is making many extraordinary claims, starting with the claim that all of physical reality is somehow self-created.
The second claim is that his own evaluation of extraordinariness suffices. How convenient! The more the claim strikes me as implausible, the more likely it is not to be true. That’s no standard, that’s just gut feel, making my internal impressions the sole standard of truth. This is really just plain old egocentric hidebound obscurantism. The opposite of enlightened skepticism. It’s curious that this kind of attitude is thought to be the brave, courageous stance.
Competing Claims on Existence
Let’s take a claim in order to illustrate. Suppose the claim is that “God created the heavens and the earth.” Does this claim require extraordinary evidence? Well, before answering, let’s consider another claim: “The heavens and the earth were self-created.” How about that claim? Does that claim require extraordinary evidence?
You know the answer. The suggestion of God is thought to require extraordinary evidence. The suggestion of spontaneous generation does not. The skeptics are not trying to evaluate the evidence and come up with an answer. If they invoke this tired old canard, they’re not seeking truth. They’re engaged in juvenile rebellion against the man.
The phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a way to cut off evaluation of evidence altogether. An attempt to win the trial without entering the courtroom. The purpose is to dissuade you against the truth of the existence of God. It’s not a legitimate standard of proof. It is an artificial barrier against coming to one of the competing conclusions.
The suggestion that there is a God is not really an “extraordinary” claim. In fact, applying the principle of Occam’s Razor, it is the more obvious conclusion, requiring the fewest supporting hypotheses. It’s hard to imagine a more extraordinary claim than this: That no supernatural reality is necessary to explain evidence like material existence and human consciousness.
This “extraordinary claim” filter is a function of egocentric human pride, not rational consideration of evidence.